GEORGE WHITEFIELD AND WESLEYAN PERFECTIONISM
Timothy L. Smith
Three religious impulses lay behind the evangelical movement that was born in English Christianity during the 1730’s when John and Charles Wesley drew together at Oxford University the company of students scornfully labeled "Methodists." One was the Anglican moralism that started John Wesley on his spiritual pilgrimage. Inspired by his parents, particularly his mother Susanna, Wesley soon concluded that the call to righteousness that pervades the Old and the New Testaments was the central theme of Scripture. He read such works as Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying and William Law’s Plain and Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. And he set out in earnest to find by God’s grace that "holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."1
The second impulse was the persisting force of Puritanism, the English version of Calvinism that in the preceding century had turned the nation first to prayer and then to political revolution. The Puritan movement subsided with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, and the crowning of William and Mary twenty-eight years later reinforced the growing aversion to all forms of intense piety. But in Presbyterian Scotland and among the dissenting Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists of England and America, Puritan fervor and moral seriousness persisted.
Meanwhile, George Fox’s Society of Friends propagated on both sides of the Atlantic their radical commitment to moral discipline and their belief that the light of Christ, usually identified with the Holy Spirit, awakened the conscience, or "seed," that remained alive in fallen human hearts.2
The third impulse stemmed from German Pietism. This movement of prayer, Bible study, and corporate discipline brought laypersons and pastors into hundreds of local associations that were intent on renewing the spiritual life of the established Lutheran or Calvinist churches. By the time the Wesleys were completing their studies at Oxford, the Pietists had established an orphan house and training school at what became the University of Halle, in Saxony, and had begun sending missionaries to the cities of the Old World and the frontiers of the New. In 1722, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a Pietist, allowed an intensely spiritual group of Moravians, from what is now Czechoslovakia, to settle at Herrnhut, on his new estate in Saxony. Within a few years, the growing settlement launched the missionary movement that became The Moravian Church.3
In the summer of 1734 George Whitefield, nineteen years old and a poor widow’s son, entered Pembroke College, Oxford, earning his keep as a servant waiting on better-off students. Shy and self-conscious, he was already in deep search of saving faith. Charles Wesley befriended him and gave him Pietist August Francke’s book Against the Fear of Man and, a bit later, Scottish Henry Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man. During the following months with the Wesleys, Whitefield wrote in 1739, "religion began to take root in my heart, and I was fully convinced my soul must be totally renewed ere it could see God." Whitefield’s recently published letters make plain that as early as 1735 the idea of the new birth, though not the instantaneous assurance of it, was a commonplace among the Oxford Methodists.
Two years later, he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England and began preaching on the new birth with notable success in his native city of Gloucester as well as at London, Bristol, and other places. In 1737 he sought and received appointment to go to Georgia, following in the steps of the two Wesleys, as chaplains to the new colony being established there.4
Before his departure, Whitefield’s sermon "On the Nature and Necessity of Our Regeneration or New Birth in Christ Jesus," based on the text "if any man be in Christ he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17), appeared in London, the first of many English and American editions.5 John Wesley, still in Georgia, had not yet experienced the grace Whitefield’s sermon described, and returned to England the following winter conscious of his great need of it.6 Wesley’s earlier sermons, however, especially two that he preached at Oxford in 1733—"The Circumcision of the Heart" and a borrowed one, "Grieve Not the Holy Spirit of God"—and several others that were until recently attributed to Charles Wesley, show that before their earliest contacts with Moravian teachers the Holy Club was moving in close accord toward the doctrines that were to become central in the evangelical awakenings.7
Of these, Whitefield declared in the sermon of 1737, "the doctrine of our regeneration, or new birth in Christ Jesus" is "one of the most fundamental." It is a "fatal mistake," he warned, to "put asunder what God has inseparably joined together" and to "expect to be justified by Christ" without also being sanctified, that is, having one’s nature "changed and made holy." Many, he continued, "are baptized with water, which were never, effectually at least, baptized with the Holy Ghost." To be "born again" implies "an inward change and purity of heart, and cohabitation of his Holy Spirit." It means "to be mystically united to Him by a true and lively faith, and thereby to receive spiritual virtue from Him, as . . . branches from the vine." To be thus "made anew" is necessary to our happiness in heaven. Hence the "irrevocable decree of the Almighty, that without holiness, that is, without being made pure by regeneration, and having the image of God thereby reinstamped upon the soul, no man living shall see the Lord." In his closing appeal, Whitefield asked, "Have we receiv’d the Holy Ghost since we believed? Are we new creatures in Christ or no?" Nothing but "the wedding garment of a new nature" will suffice. "Unless the Spirit, which raised Jesus from the dead, dwell in you here," he concluded, "neither will your mortal bodies be quickened by the same Spirit to dwell with him hereafter."8
The doctrines of this discourse, though not all its pentecostal proof-texts, parallel those of John Wesley’s sermon on "Salvation by Faith," preached before Oxford University in June the next year, two weeks after his experience of "living faith" at a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street, London.9 Both sermons proclaimed to all the world the three points of Christian belief upon which Whitefield, the Calvinist, and John and Charles Wesley, the Arminians, always agreed. Indeed, they shared these convictions with Quakers and Baptists, with the German Pietists, Mennonites, and Moravians, and with a growing majority of the heirs of the Puritans, whether Presbyterian, Anglican, or Congregationalist, in Great Britain and America. All such "evangelicals" affirmed the moral authority of the Bible, declaring that it called human beings to a righteousness that is not only imputed to them in Christ’s name but actually imparted to them by His grace. All stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, assuring them of forgiveness, and by His presence thereafter in their hearts nurturing in them the love and holiness that please God. And they declared it the duty of all who had discovered these truths and experienced this grace to proclaim the good news of salvation everywhere, at home and abroad.10 From that day until this, these three convictions have marked the boundaries of evangelical Protestantism. The Bible is its authority, the new birth its hallmark, and evangelism its mission.11
Whitefield returned from Georgia for his ordination to the Anglican priesthood in November, 1738. In London, Bristol, and several towns between them, the revivals that had begun under his earlier preaching broke out afresh. The transformed evangelism of the Wesleys had given a new impulse to them, as had that of the Moravian missionaries, particularly in London.12 Whitefield’s American experience had accustomed him to preaching in dissenting houses of worship and, occasionally, in the open air. Now, whether excluded or not from Anglican pulpits, he greatly expanded both practices.13 Campaigning through Wales in March, while the great revival at the nearby port of Bristol was getting underway, he met and formed an alliance with young Howell Harris, some of whose Welsh societies afterwards became the nucleus of the Calvinistic Methodist Church.14 During these same months, however, John Wesley was earnestly seeking the full "witness of the Spirit" to the new life in Christ he had found at Aldersgate. I have "peace with God," he wrote shortly afterwards, "and I sin not today." But the joy he thought Scripture promised eluded him.15
Whitefield’s Journal and published letters show he agreed entirely with the Wesleys that "nothing but an assurance that we are born again, that we are members of CHRIST, that we are united to Him by one and the same Spirit with which He himself was actuated" can "satisfy the heart of man."16 The three men also agreed on the nature and extent of the sanctification begun through the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.17 Whitefield preached often and distributed widely his new sermon, "The Marks of the New Birth," which appeared later under the title, "Marks of Having Received the Holy Ghost."18 In it, he linked the question St. Paul asked the Ephesian believers—"Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?" (Acts 19:2, to the experience of the Apostles at Pentecost. The miracles that accompanied their experience are not necessary, Whitefield declared, "but it is absolutely necessary that we should receive the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying graces as really as they did, and so will it continue to be till the end of the world." We must "be baptized with his baptism and refining fire, before we can be stiled true members" of Christ’s "mystical body." For that experience accomplishes the aim of Christ’s coming, namely, to make those who believe on Him "partakers of the divine nature" and restore them to "that primitive dignity" in which they were "at first created." Christ’s atonement, Whitefield continued, "purchased again for us the Holy Ghost," so that He might "once more reinstamp the divine image upon our hearts, and make us capable of living with and enjoying God."19 One who was thus born of the Spirit would "not willfully commit sin, much less live in the habitual practice of it." Rather, on any fall into evil, such a true believer quickly repents, and afterwards "takes double heed to his ways . . . and perfects holiness in the fear of God."20 Here, in short, was a view of regeneration that in substance matched precisely what the two Wesleys had been preaching for nearly twelve months, and for which they, like Whitefield, found the doors of Anglican churches closed against them.21
Little wonder that as the time drew near for Whitefield to return to Georgia, he urged John Wesley to come to Bristol and assume the leadership of the revival there. Wesley arrived the first of April, 1739, and undertook the open-air preaching he had hitherto loathed.22 Speaking several times each day, he began systematic expositions of the doctrines of the evangelical awakening in concurrent series of sermons on the Gospel of John, the Sermon on the Mount, the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.23 Meanwhile, Whitefield’s departure was delayed for some months by the French embargo. This enabled him not only to spread the revival to other towns, but to join the Wesleys frequently in public and private meetings at Bristol and London.24
The unity of the three men was everywhere apparent during this crucial summer; and they muted the single point of disagreement among them, the doctrine of predestination. John Wesley set forth his longstanding objections to that doctrine in a sermon entitled "Free Grace," preached at Bristol in late April; but in response to Whitefield’s pleas, he did not preach it again and deferred publishing it for many months.25 They and their helpers affirmed, from a broad range of scriptural texts, what any collection of his writings; see Wesley, Works, VII, 363, for the editors’ comment, and, for the offending sermon, 373–86.
Whitefield called "the reasonableness of the doctrine of the new birth, and the necessity of our receiving the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying gifts and graces" in connection with it. They scorned the charge that expecting the Holy Spirit to deliver seekers from the power as well as the guilt of willful sin was enthusiasm.26 All three taught that concrete acts of charity to suffering human beings—orphans, poor families, persons in prison, and victims of war or national disasters—must blossom in the midst of any authentic spiritual awakening. Whitefield was no less than the Wesleys the advocate of a socially concerned Christianity. And he grounded that concern as earnestly as they did in the law of Moses and Jesus that God’s people must love their neighbors as themselves.27 They all resisted heartily the Moravian notion of "stillness," namely, that seekers must not exercise any effort, either by prayer, repentance, or good works, nor share in Holy Communion until, in Whitefield’s words, they had "received the Holy Ghost in the full assurance of it," as the Apostles did at Pentecost.28 And they rejected those called "French prophets," several of whom were women, for insisting that "extraordinary gifts of the Spirit" (such as the trances, exorcism, speaking in the unknown languages and miracles of healing recorded in the church of Pentecost) should accompany what Whitefield and the Wesleys always called His "ordinary gifts," namely, "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."29
The doctrine of the sanctifying Spirit thus became crucial to the evangelical awakening, as it had been, in Geoffrey Nutgall’s accounting, to the Puritan movement of the preceding century. During a week of evangelism with John Wesley in Bristol and nearby Bath in July, Whitefield wrote and Wesley helped edit for immediate publication his sermon On the Indwelling Spirit, the Common Privilege of All Believers, from the text in John 7:37–39.30 It was reprinted many times in the next few years and, with only minor editing, including in Whitefield’s first collection of his discourses, published in 1745. The theme of the sermon, like that of the one on "The Marks of the New Birth," was the promise of Jesus that His followers should be filled with the Spirit, not so they might work miracles or show "outward signs and wonders" but in order to be partakers of "His sanctifying graces."31 The fact of original sin, in his view, made this promise reasonable. "The great work of sanctification, or making us holy," he said, belonged to "the sanctifying Spirit promised in the text"; He would restore those who "truly believe" to the "glorious liberties of the sons of God."32 Before his departure for America in mid-August, Whitefield also wrote and published The Power of Christ’s Resurrection, based on Philippians 3:10, which reiterated these points. Its central question was, as Whitefield put it, whether or not believers "have received the Holy Ghost, and by His powerful operation in our hearts been raised from the death of sin, to a life of righteousness and true holiness."33 During the year that followed he made that question the key to a broad extension of the religious awakenings then going on in the towns of New England and the Middle Colonies.34
Meanwhile, growing controversy with the Moravians moved the Wesleys steadily toward the conviction that some of the Biblical passages they had been using to describe the new birth referred primarily to a second and deeper experience of hallowing grace.35 John Wesley’s renewed study and repeated exposition during the late summer and fall of 1739 of the opening sentences of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (which I think we have grounds to believe yielded the essence of the discourses he published on those sentences seven years later) may have catalyzed that conviction.36 From that time on he taught that to be made "pure in heart" and filled with righteousness was the essence of Christian perfection, and that this "second benefit" was promised only to those who, in poverty of spirit, meekness, and mourning, were already born into the family of God and made heirs of His kingdom.37 On November 7 and 8, after a crucial encounter with the Moravian bishop, Augustus G. Spangenberg, John Wesley wrote at least portions of his widely read condensation of William Law’s Christian Perfection. Either then or during the next few days he may have composed the momentous sermon entitled "Christian Perfection" that he published in September, 1741; for on November 12, I believe, at Oxford and again on Saturday evening, November 17, he explained to small gatherings of his followers "the nature and extent of Christian perfection," words that point to that sermon’s contents.38 During the following winter he preached important sermons from a group of texts he always thereafter used to declare the promise of full cleansing from the corruption of "inbred sin" that remains in believers after they are born again. Among their texts were 2 Peter 1:4, 1 John 1:7 and 2:12, Ephesians 4:23–24, Hebrews 10:19, and Hebrews 4:9.39 And in the spring of 1740 Wesley published to all the world a scriptural account of the two moments of grace by which he had come to believe the Spirit made sinners whole—characteristically, in the preface to a hymnbook, the second volume of his and his brother’s Hymns and Sacred Poems.40 That preface, reprinted with only slight revision twenty-six years later in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, remained for the rest of John Wesley’s life the benchmark of his doctrine of inward holiness. 41
During these months, however, Whitefield’s theological sensibilities were subject to quite different influences. He seems to have left England unaware that his friends were moving rapidly toward the idea of a second and "entirely" sanctifying moment of grace. In a letter to a Scottish minister written in early August, 1739, the young evangelist rejoiced that the revival spirit had spread to that country, then added, in response to a complaint that seems almost too early to have been aimed at the Wesleys, "I follow them as they follow CHRIST. I am no friend of sinless perfection. I believe the being (though not the dominion) of sin remains in the hearts of the greatest believers." (His "greatest believers," of course were John Wesley’s "young men in Christ"—persons who had received the "abiding witness of the Spirit" to their new birth.)42 The sermon Whitefield enclosed with this letter may have been another he wrote and published that year under the title A Preservative Against Unsettled Notions, and Want of Principles, in regard to Righteousness and Christian Perfection. Its text, Ecclesiastes 7:16, "Be not righteous overmuch," had been used to attack the Methodists. Whitefield’s sermon explained that the Biblical writer’s actual purpose was "to exhort the truly righteous" to continue in "constant pursuit of greater and greater perfection and righteousness, till they rest in Christ." He declared that Yahweh’s appeal to Abraham, "Walk thou before me, and be thou perfect," as well as the passage in Deuteronomy 18:13, "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God," were the basis of Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."43
During his first days aboard ship, Whitefield plunged into writing the Short Account of his early life that he sent home for John Wesley to publish. It radiated the language of the Methodist awakening, emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit both in regeneration and in bringing believers up to "the measure of His fulness who filleth all in all."44 But his journal for the remainder of the voyage to Philadelphia revealed a growing struggle. "I was frequently enlightened to see the pride and selfishness of my heart," he stated on August 25, "and as frequently longed for that perfect liberty wherewith Christ sets His servants free." Two weeks later he wrote, "I groan daily to be set at liberty Dearest Redeemer, I come unto Thee weary and heavy laden. Oh do Thou bring me into the full freedom of the sons of God." The shame of his past sins often oppressed him.45 During the latter part of the voyage he read and found himself approving the writings of certain "Cambridge Puritans who championed imputed righteousness and who charged that Arminians relied upon their own works for justification. When a Quaker on board preached reliance upon "Christ within and not Christ without, as the foundation of our faith," Whitefield commented that "the outward righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us" is "the sole fountain and cause" of all that believers receive from the Spirit of God.46 On October 13 he expressed gratitude for the "blessed teachings of His Holy Spirit" during the previous weeks. They had convinced him, he said, "of the pride, sensuality, and blindness of his heart.47
On his arrival at Philadelphia November 3, the young evangelist found his way prepared by the news of the awakenings in England, by the spirituality of the Quakers and of the fifteen denominations of "German Christians" that flourished in the area, and by the growing influence of the Presbyterian pastor—revivalists, William and Gilbert Tennant in the Middle Colonies. Within a few weeks, he breathed new life into their efforts and brought thousands of people to town from Wilmington, Delaware, to New York City face to face with the evangelical call to be born again.48
At the end of the month Whitefield composed his great sermon, "The Lord our Righteousness." Its major purpose was to declare, from the messianic text in Jeremiah 23:5–6, that Christ dealt with human sinfulness by imputing to believers His perfect righteousness.49 The sermon was not a digression from Methodist major facet of it, as a comparison with John Wesley’s later sermon on the same text and his many summaries of the same point will show.50 Whitefield acknowledged "the unChristian walk" of some who "talked of Christ’s imputed righteousness." But he insisted, as Wesley often did, that the teaching of Jesus and Paul only excluded good works "from being any cause of our justification in the sight of God." Doing them, Whitefield declared, was "a proof of our having this righteousness imputed to us"; and he warned that "an unapplied Christ is no Christ at all." For the text, he said, promised not only "Christ’s personal righteousness imputed to us, but also holiness of heart wrougt in us. These two God hath joined together. He never did, He never does He, never will put them asunder. If you are justified by the Blood you are also sanctified by the Spirit of the Lord."51 All this from a young man twenty-four years of age, whose spiritual pilgrimage had begun only five years before!
Clearly, however, during the very months when John Wesley was finding that the promise of heart purity pervaded both the Old and New Testaments and staking the future of his movement upon it, Whitefield, reveling in America’s awakening, allowed sanctification to become a secondary concern. His journal and correspondence written during this second American journey (November 1739 to December 1740), while he preached his way from Pennsylvania to Georgia twice and then from Georgia to Boston and back again, indicate a growing alignment of his beliefs and sensibilities with those of the Calvinist pastors in the colonies—Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists. None of these were friends of either free grace or Christian perfection.52 Hints also recur that although the young clergyman realized that his personal quest of holiness was being frustrated, the immense response to his preaching made the frustration less painful.53
Because several bundles of letters sent across the Atlantic were misdirected and only slowly forwarded, Whitefield spent this year of evangelism in America largely out of touch with his English friends. He did not learn for many months that soon after his departure John Wesley decided to publish his sermon on "Free Grace" and began clearly to proclaim and to set his closest followers to seeking the experience of heart purity and perfect love. He received a letter from Wesley in March that has not survived. But it prompted him to write pleading that they quarrel no more, either over the doctrine of predestination (of which, Whitefield declared, he was "ten thousand times more convinced" than when he left England) or over Wesley’s belief that certain Scriptures promised full deliverance from the "strugglings of indwelling sin." Two months later, Whitefield warned in another letter that he also differed from Wesley’s "notions about committing sin." Since the American revivals were being carried on without divisions over these issues, he hoped Wesley had no plans to come there and thought it might be best that he not return to England.54
A few hours after Whitefield arrived in Boston on September 20, 1740, he wrote in his journal that though refreshed by accounts of the success of the gospel in "several packets of letters sent to me from different parts of England and America," he was "a little cast down to find some English friends had thrown aside the use of means" [that is, the means of grace; apparently a reference to those who had joined the Moravians] while "others were disputing for sinless perfection and universal redemption. I know no such things asserted in the gospel, if explained aright."55 To a friend in New York he wrote that he believed God was calling him back to England, and that "Mr. W____ and the M____S [Wesley and the Moravians?]" were "sadly erroneous in some points of doctrine." To another in Britain, who had complained that some were teaching "sinless perfection," Whitefield replied that in his view such a state was "unattainable in this life" and that "there is no man that liveth and sinneth not in thought, word, and deed." It was absurd, he added, "to affirm such a thing as perfection, and to deny final perseverance."56
Five days later Whitefield wrote directly to John Wesley, in answer to Wesley’s letter of March 25, which does not now exist. "I think I have for some time known what it is to have righteousness, peace, and joy in the HOLY Ghost," Whitefield began, quoting words of St. Paul (Romans 14:17) that Wesley used constantly to describe what it meant to be a child of God. "But I cannot say I am free from indwelling sin; no, I find a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, that makes me to cry out, even now, ‘Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’" (Romans 7:24). These words suggest that the evangelist did not yet comprehend fully that Wesley was now teaching that deliverance from the inward bent to sinning was promised in a second work of grace, beyond the new birth. For he cited then the article in the Anglican creed that Wesley still and always heartily affirmed, declaring inward corruption to remain in those who have experienced regeneration. "I am sorry, honoured Sir," Whitefield continued "to hear by many letters that you seem to own a sinless perfection in this life attainable." On the contrary, he reasoned, the continual struggle with inbred sin is necessary to keep a Christian humble "and to drive him constantly to Jesus for pardon and forgiveness." True, he acknowledged, many abuse this teaching "and perhaps willfully indulge sin, or do not aspire after holiness." But he could not on that account "assert doctrines contrary to the gospel." Wesley must have been startled to read the words, "I know no sin (except that against the Holy Ghost), that a child of God (if God should withhold his grace) may not be guilty of." Was this, indeed, the same man who had written the sermon on "Marks of the New Birth?"57
The letter did not, however, mean that Whitefield had abandoned the teaching both men knew they shared with Pietists, Quakers, and Puritans—that the power of the Holy Spirit enabled persons who were truly born again to overcome temptation. Whitefield had simply begun to rely on the doctrines of election and final perseverance to deal with the fact that they often yielded to it, as did King David, whom Scripture called "a man after God’s own heart," and Peter, who denied his Lord.58 The very next day, however, the evangelist explained to another correspondent what must have been for him a new understanding of the link between a predestined new birth and the assurance of final salvation: "Thus (says Saint Paul) ‘those whom He justified, them He also glorified’; so that if a man was once justified, he remains so to all eternity."59
Returning south by way of Philadelphia in early November, 1740, Whitefield found in the Quaker city another letter from Wesley, this one also written a full eight months earlier. "O that we were of one mind," Whitefield responded. "For I am yet persuaded you greatly err. You have set a mark you will never arrive at, till you come to glory. . . . O that God may give you a sight of his free, sovereign, and electing love. . . ." Then, pleading friendship, he wrote, "I am willing to go with you to prison, and to death; but I am not willing to oppose you. . . . Dear, dear Sir, study the covenant of grace, that you may be consistent with yourself."60
At his orphanage in Bethesda, Georgia, Whitefield wrote John Wesley on Christmas eve a long letter in answer to his friend’s views on both Christian perfection and free grace. At the risk of their friendship, he had decided to publish it in Charleston, Boston, and, on his return, in London. The letter demonstrates that this fateful decision stemmed from what Whitefield thought was the interlocking character of Wesley’s rejection of predestination and his doctrine of Christian perfection. It also records, however, the young evangelist’s retreat from his once high view of the "sanctifying graces" imparted in the new birth. He acknowledged "with grief and humble shame" that during the "five or six years" since he had received the "full assurance of faith," although he had "not doubted a quarter of an hour of having a saving interest in Jesus Christ," he had "fallen into sin often." He had not been nor did he expect ever to be "able to live one day perfectly free from all defects and sin."61 Lumping the last two words together, of course, confused the careful distinction between human frailty and a corrupted heart that Wesley had drawn from the moment he began to preach the promise of cleansing from all sin.62 Worse, Whitefield in the next breath denounced an error that Wesleyans have never held, namely, "that after a man is born again he cannot commit sin." And in the letter’s closing paragraphs he abandoned his customary deference to tell his friend bluntly, "I believe your fighting so strenuously against the doctrine of election, and pleading so vehemently for a sinless perfection, are among the reasons . . . why you are kept out of the liberties of the gospel, and that full assurance of faith which they enjoy who have experimentally tasted and daily feed upon God’s electing, everlasting love."63
John Wesley, always careful not to claim more grace than he had, stood thus publicly judged by one of his closest associates as not enjoying even a clear experience of regeneration.64 But the judgment was grounded in Whitefield’s persisting belief that Scripture taught only one renewing work of the Holy Spirit, the new birth, whereas Wesley was now hungering and thirsting for a second and deeper renewal in God’s image. In that sublime moment, Wesley declared for the rest of his life, the underlying impulse to pride, self-will and anger that persisted in every believer’s heart, and that he thought represented the "remains of inbred sin," would be entirely cleansed away. Persons thus sanctified would then be able to love God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves.65 Having been preoccupied for fifteen months with resisting the antinomianism he thought was implicit in Moravian "stillness," Wesley now had to confront the "speculative antinomianism" of the Calvinist party. Many of that party were far more willing than Whitefield to condone sin in believers. And they were happy to be able to draw upon Whitefield’s letter to accuse John Wesley of teaching salvation by works rather than by grace, and to ground that accusation upon both the doctrines in question: unlimited atonement and Christian perfection.66
Once having joined the argument against entire sanctification in public print, Whitefield never relented. Late in April, 1741, he responded to a friend (possibly Howell Harris) who had been put off by his statement that there was "no such thing" as dominion over the carnal nature with these words: "We shall never have such a dominion over indwelling sin as entirely to be delivered from the stirring of it." Moreover, he continued, "the greatest saint cannot be assured but [that] some time or other, for his humiliation or punishment for unfaithfulness, God may permit it to break out into some actual breach of his law, and in a gross way too."67 To a lady in Edinburgh, recently converted, Whitefield wrote: "What does the Lord require of you now, but to walk humbly with him? Beg him to show you more and more of your evil heart, that you may ever remain a poor sinner at the feet of the once crucified, but now exalted lamb of God. There you will be happy." Earlier he would have declared, with all the other awakened Methodists, that the Christian’s happiness stems from the power to live righteously. A bit later, Whitefield published an answer to an anonymous tract, attributed to the Bishop of London, entitled Observations upon the Conduct and Behaviour of . . . Methodists. The evangelist stoutly defended the doctrine that the new birth was "a sudden and instantaneous change," in which "the Righteousness of Jesus Christ" is imputed and applied to their Souls by Faith, through the Operation of the Eternal Spirit." This doctrine he and the Wesleys continued everywhere to declare. But he denied ever imagining that he "had attain’d or was already perfect," or teaching others "to imagine that they were so." On the contrary, he wrote "I expect to carry a body of sin and death about with me as long as I live."68
During the years that followed both Whitefield and John Wesley worked hard to minimize their estrangement. Both men wrote gracious letters which, though reiterating their differences, demonstrated their common opposition to Moravian teaching, affirmed their resistance to antinomianism, and cleared up the libel that Wesley had excluded Calvinists from his societies.69 In his most important theological tract, published in 1745 Wesley declared the charge that he and Whitefield anathematized each other was "grossly, shamelessly false." In every one of the "fundamental doctrines" of Christianity, he said, "we hold one and the same thing. In smaller points each of us thinks, and lets think . . . I reverence Mr. Whitefield, both as a child of God, and a true minister of Jesus Christ."70 In 1748 the evangelist wrote John Wesley wishing for a union of their followers but regretting that it was not feasible. Wesley’s recently published volumes of sermons demonstrated, he said, "that we differ in principles more than I thought." Moreover, his "attachment to America" would not allow him to make long visits in England or to organize his followers into a permanent association of societies, as Wesley had.71 Whenever he was in Britain, however, Whitefield preached among Wesley’s societies, as he put it, "as freely as among those who are called our own."72
In 1763, William Warburton, the Anglican bishop of Worcester, wrote a volume deeply critical of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit that both Calvinistic and Arminian evangelicals freely proclaimed. Whitefield and John Wesley published closely parallel rejoinders. Both stressed the scriptural promise that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would empower believers to live a righteous life.73 Whitefield declared that the "divine tempers" described in St. Paul’s great hymn to Christian love in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, are "flowers not to be gathered in nature’s garden. They are exotics—planted originally in heaven, and in the great work of the new birth, transplanted by the Holy Ghost, not only into the hearts of the first apostles or primitive Christians, but into the hearts of all true believers, even to the end of the world."74 The last two phrases had appeared long before in both his and Wesley’s sermons of 1739, the one referring to initial and the other to entire sanctification. They had reappeared in 1757 in John Wesley’s Notes on Acts 1:5, recording Jesus’ promise to His apostles of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.75 Whitefield urged that "our earthly hearts do now, and always will, stand in as much need of the quickening, enlivening, transforming influence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, . . . as the hearts of the first apostles." The Spirit’s abiding presence gradually makes "every believer, in every age," truly Christian, he wrote, "by beginning, carrying on, and completing that holiness in the heart and life . . . without which no man living shall see the Lord."76 Here, revived, was the language of Whitefield’s earliest sermons.77
The closing days of the year 1766 found the evangelist writing a friend praising the Countess Selina, Lady Huntingdon, for her "single eye" and "disinterested spirit" and her "laudable ambition" to lead the Christian vanguard. "O for a plerephory of faith! To be filled with the Holy Ghost," Whitefield exclaimed to his friend. "This is the grand point. God be praised that you have it in view."78 Three years later a similar spiritual ambition led John Fletcher, with Wesley’s blessing, to accept Lady Huntingdon’s invitation to preside over the founding of Trevecca College. She hoped that at Trevecca the youthful followers of Wesley and Whitefield would unite again, in a love inspired by the Holy Spirit’s outpouring.79
Little wonder that when news reached England in 1770 that George Whitefield had died and been buried at Newburyport, Massachusetts, John Wesley would allow no one to keep him from fulfilling Whitefield’s wish that he preach the memorial sermon in his friend’s London pulpit.80 And in that sermon, before a vast congregation, Wesley proclaimed that these two firebrands of the evangelical movement had never differed on the great doctrine that the gift of the Holy Spirit in the experience of regeneration and His continuing presence thereafter delivered believers from the power as well as the guilt of sin, enabling them to "walk as Christ also walked."81
In retrospect, the research for this paper, undertaken simply to find out what Whitefield thought were John Wesley’s views, also casts new light on many aspects of his own thought and ministry and, accordingly, on the evangelical awakenings in Great Britain and America. Whitefield’s priority is evident in many matters on which he and the Wesleys were in substantial agreement. Without any acquaintance with Moravians, but believing himself indebted to the Wesleys, he led the way in preaching that in the experience of the new birth, the Holy Spirit gave believers victory over the dominion of sin. He rooted that proclamation, as the Wesleys always did, in the reformation doctrine of justification, of being "made just" by faith. He grounded it, as they did, in what the early church fathers believed was the promise of both the Old and New Testaments: that God’s purpose—manifest in Moses and the prophets, in the atonement and resurrection of Christ, and in the pouring out of His Spirit at Pentecost—would renew fallen humankind in the divine image of holiness and love. Holiness, for these three and most other leaders of the evangelical awakening, consisted in a life of loving God supremely and one’s neighbor as oneself, as both Moses and Jesus had taught. And both that life and the experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence that made it possible required growth in holiness, by grace alone, through faith. Moreover, Whitefield, by far the youngest of the three men, pioneered many of the evangelistic measures that the Wesleys and others adopted, such as preaching in the open air, cultivating Anglican fellowship with dissenting ministers and their congregations, and nurturing a sense of common purpose among an interdenominational community of English, continental, and American evangelicals.
Whitefield’s testimony also helps us understand better the origin and substance of the Wesleys’ perfectionism, which was the more important of the two major points of disagreement between them. Clearly, the central issue was the Wesleyan contention that believers should pray for and expect a second work of sanctifying grace that would cleanse away the "remains of inbred sin." The letters that Whitefield and John Wesley exchanged in 1740 confirm what I had earlier concluded on the basis of Wesley’s writings: that this doctrine of "perfect love" emerged in the months between July and November, 1739. And the Wesleys and their followers proclaimed it without diminishing the high doctrine of the new birth that was the hallmark of the evangelical awakening. The timing, the scriptural basis, and the moral rigor of this teaching make no longer tenable, I believe, the notion that John Wesley embraced it only after, and largely because, members of his London and Bristol congregations had begun to profess entire sanctification. Those professions followed, they did not precede, the preaching of it.
Whitefield’s writings also bring into clearer focus the character of the New Light Calvinism that he helped colonial pastors to popularize during the revivals of the 1740’s. Although certain parallels between Jonathan Edwards’ views and what Whitefield believed and preached—and, for that matter, some aspects of what Wesley believed and preached—are now apparent, it is clear that his New Light Calvinism differed substantially from the stark Augustinian orthodoxy usually ascribed to Edwards. Rather, what Whitefield nurtured in the American Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist churches was their renewal of the emphasis that both John Calvin and his Puritan heirs had placed on a morally transforming experience of saving grace. This helps to explain the ease and consistency by which Wesley’s perfectionism was exported to America, but the idea that righteousness in both private and public life is the central purpose of redemption and the actual consequence of mass conversions was never a monopoly of Wesleyans, in either Britain or America. If these conclusions are valid, they pose important new questions about the cultural history of revolutionary and early national America. The first stages of the long struggle between piety and moralism, between "dead orthodoxy" and the power of righteousness, involved primarily the two parties of Old and New Light Calvinists; for Methodists were few indeed until after 1775. Francis Asbury’s Methodists, who after 1780 multiplied as rapidly in the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and, later, Boston as in the pioneer western settlements, shared fully the New Light moral perspective. That the drive for holiness, and not simply the assurance of salvation, was the governing theme of early Methodism on both sides of the Atlantic is now becoming commonplace among students of that movement’s history, as indeed it was among the first generation of Methodist historians. Neither in England or America did Wesleyans see any way to fulfill their mission to "reform the nation," as the Book of Discipline put it, than "to spread scriptural holiness over these lands." This larger moral purpose, I think, was the basis of the "evangelical united front" that persisted through most of the nineteenth century, drawing together Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, and German Pietists. Pioneer black Methodists and Baptists slowly embraced, though on their own terms, the same moral hopes. They sustained both the loyalty to America and the resistance to slavery and all other forms of oppression that their spiritual descendants have ever since displayed.
Broader aspects of American political and religious history also look different when the moral promise of Whitefield’s Reformed evangelicalism is clear. The revolutionary rhetoric calling for "a republic of virtue" may not have owed as much to the fascination of colonial elites with Enlightenment ideals as to the revivalist conviction that personal rectitude was one of the sure marks of new life in Christ. And the mid-nineteenth century "righteous empire," scorned by a generation of recent scholars for its alleged separation of public and private morality, reflected an admirable if often frustrated effort to untie the two, as I and others have persistently argued. During the early part of that century Unitarians found both popular and intellectual support for their ethical preaching from the growing concern for righteousness in private and public life that Jonathan Edwards had sparked, Whitefield’s preaching had kindled, and Francis Asbury and Samuel Hopkins had brought to white heat.
1 Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (New York, 1964, in A Library of Protestant Thought, ed. John Dillenberger and others), "Introduction," 3–34, and 121–23; Martin Schmidt, John Wesley, A Theological Biography: Volume I . . ., tr. Norman P. Goldhawk, New York, London, 1962), 43–53,73–114.
2 Schmidt, Wesley, I, 23–30. Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Oxford, 1946), 4–8, 14–19, 28–33, 42–45, 134–40, and 154–57 illuminates the Puritan and Quaker backgrounds of the evangelical movement; but on the precise distinction between the convicting and the evangelically converting work of the Holy Spirit in every person, cf. Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven, 1964), 110–113.
3 F. Ernest Stoeffler, German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century (Leyden, 1973); John R. Weinlick, "Moravianism in the American Colonies," in F. Ernest Stoeffler, ed., Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1976), 123–34. Michael R. Watts, The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford, 1978), 394-406, 421-31, 434-45, synthesizes powerfully the recent scholarship on these three impulses to the eighteenth-century awakenings. His account of Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection, however, 428–29, is awry, apparently from inattention to the central doctrine of prevenient grace. On that theme, see Harald G. A. Lindstrom Wesley and Sanctification, A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation (Nashville 1946; reprinted, Wilmore, Kentucky, 1982), 44–50. Jean Orcibal, "The Theological Originality of John Wesley and Continental Spirituality," in Rupert E. Davies and Gordon Rupp, eds., A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain (2 vols.; London, 1965, 1978), I, 81–113, sets Wesley in the context of Catholic as well as Protestant traditions of spirituality.
4 George Whitefield, A Short Account of God’s Dealings with the Reverend Mr. George Whitefield . . . to the Time of His Entering Into Holy Orders (London, 1740), reprinted, with critical notes, in George Whitefield, Journals . . ., ed. Arnold Dallimore (London, 1960), 46–47, 68–69, 77, 80–89, relies on Whitefield’s slightly revised text of 1745; John Wesley arranged the publication of the original edition at London, early in 1740. For Whitefield’s writing of this Account aboard ship to Philadelphia, see, in the same place, his journal entries for August 27 and September 8, 1739. Cf. George Whitefield, Gloucester, June 11, and summer, 1735, to John Wesley, in George Whitefield, Letters . . . for the Period 1734–1742 (London, 1976), 483, 485. Schmidt, Wesley, I, 52–58, analyzes Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man and its impact upon Susanna Wesley and her sons; John Wesley published an abridgement of it at Bristol in 1744.
5 George Whitefield, A Sermon on Regeneration, Preached to a Numerous Audience in England (2nd ed.; Boston: T. Fleet, 1739), which I use here, appeared first in London in 1737 under the title stated in the text. Whitefield describes its preparation and reception there in Short Account, 86.
6 John Wesley, Journal, in his Works (14 vols.; London: 1872, reprinted, Kansas City, Mo., 1968), I, entries for January 8, 9, and 24, 1738 and May 24, 1738, paragraphs 9–17. Charles Wesley, Journal . . ., ed. Thomas Jackson (2 vols.; London, 1849; reprinted, Kansas City, Mo., 1980), I, 72–79, entries for June–November, 1737, show that after his return from Georgia and parallel to his growing acquaintance with the Moravians, Charles was wholly absorbed in seeking, and teaching the doctrine of, the new birth, though he may not have yet conceived it to be experienced instantaneously, by faith, as Peter Bohler convinced the Wesleys it was in the spring of 1738; see the same, 84–87, April and May, 1738.
7 Key passages in the two sermons of 1733 appear in Wesley, Works, VI, 204-5 and 209-10 (sec. I, par. 6–9 and sec. II, par. 4, 5) and VII, 491 (sec. III, par. 1). Cf. in Charles Wesley, Sermons . . ., with a Memoir of the Author (London, 1816), discourses that Richard Heitzenrater has recently demonstrated that John Wesley composed, no later than the dates indicated: "He That Winneth Souls Is Wise" (July 12, 1731), pp. 13–14, 17; "One Thing Is Needful" (May, 1734), pp. 85–86, 89–91; and "Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God" (Sept. 15, 1733), pp. 136–137, 144, 159. Compare John Wesley’s other early sermons, "The Christian’s Rest" (21 September, 1735), Works, VII. 367–63; and "On Love" (February 20, 1736), the same, 497–98.
8 Whitefield, Sermon on Regeneration, 5, 6, 7, 20, 21. Frederick Dreyer, "Faith and Experience in the Thought of John Wesley," The American Historical Review, 88 (February, 1983, 15–16, misreads the continual Methodist emphasis on "righteousness" as the "ordinary" gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, without which the "emotional reactions or effects" of "peace, love, and joy" bore no witness of salvation at all. That the young evangelist preached this same doctrine during his first stay in Georgia, in 1737 and 1738, is clear from George Whitefield, on board the "Mary," October 2, 1738, to "The Inhabitants of Savannah," in Whitefield, Letters . . . 1734–1742, 491–493.
9 John Wesley, "Salvation by Faith" (June 7, 1738), Works, V, 11–12 (sec. II, par. 5–7). I have attempted to assign the earliest likely dates of their composition in my article. "Chronological List of John Wesley’s Sermons and Doctrinal Essays," The Wesleyan Theological Journal, 17 (Fall, 1982): 88–110; notes that appear in parentheses after the titles of sermons cited below are drawn from that necessarily preliminary effort.
10 On the centrality of these evangelical affirmations to John Wesley, see the same, 15-16 (sec. III, par. 7, 9), and passim, John Wesley, London, March 20, 1739, to James Hervey, in John Wesley, Letters, I, 1721–1739, ed. Frank Baker (The Works of John Wesley, Volume 25; Oxford, 1980),610–11. Cf. the close analysis of the ecumenical character of early eighteenth-century "spiritual theology" in Richard F. Lovelace, The American Pietism of Cotton Mather: Origins of American Evangelicalism (Washington, 1979), 3, 33, 35-36, 91–92, and, generally, 251–281.
11 The constancy of this definition of "evangelical" from the eighteenth century to the present is spelled out in my as yet unpublished chapters prepared for a forthcoming volume that I have written jointly with several younger colleagues, The American Evangelical Mosaic.
12 Whitefield, Journals, December 8, 1738 to March 1, 1739, passim, especially December 10, February 9–10, and March l; Wesley, Journal, December 11, 1738.
13 Whitefield, Journals, February 23, 1739, seems to record Whitefield’s earliest consciousness that he was committed to "field preaching," a phrase that referred not to rural fields, of course, but to open spaces in or near the centers of cities and towns; cf. George Whitefield, A Further Account of God’s Dealings . . . from the Time of His Ordination to His Embarking for Georgia (June, 1734, December, 1737 (London, 1740), reprinted in Whitefield, Journals, 90.
4 Whitefield, Journals, March 3, 7–9 and April 4–7, 1739.
15 Wesley, Journal, May 25, 1738. Cf. his subsequent entries recounting this search: May 26–29, June 6–7, July 6, October 14, 1738, and January 4, 1739. His intensely pessimistic self-examination of October 14, 1738, should be read in the light of the following: John Wesley, A Second Letter to the Author of The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared (London, 1750), ed. Gerald R. Cragg, in Frank Baker, ed., The Works of John Wesley, XI (Oxford, 1975),402 (also in Wesley, Works, IX, 36); and his restrained but seemingly clear testimonies to a satisfying witness of the Spirit in Wesley, Journal, June 11, 1730 and in John Wesley, Bristol, May 10,1739, to Samuel Wesley, his brother in Letters, I, 645–46, on the latter of which he comments in his Journal, May 20, 1739.
16 George Whitefield, Gibraltar, February 27, 1738, to an unidentified person; the same, at sea, April 14, 1738, to Mrs. A. H.; the same, Basingstoke, February 8, 1739, to an unidentified man; and the same, Oxon, April 24 and 27,1739, to Mrs. H.-all in George Whitefield, Letters . . . Written to His Most Intimate friends, and Persons of Distinction . . . from the Year 1734 to 1770 . . . 3 vols.; London, 1772, a reprinting, from the same plates, of the first three volumes of his Works, ed. John Gillies, 6 vols, London, 1771), I, 39, 40–41, 47–49. See also, Whitefield, Journals, January 23 and 24, 1739, and cf. February 25 and March 6, 1738.
17 John Wesley’s sermons of the same period, "Salvation by Faith" (June 7, 1738), Works, V, 11, sec. II, par. 5, 6), "Marks of the New Birth" (April 3, 1741), Works, V, 214–16 (sec. I, par. 4-6), and "The Great Privilege of Those That Are Born of God" (September 23, 1739), the same, 227–33, sec. II), affirm and explain the nature of that "dominion over sin" that his Journal for May 24 (par. 11, 12, 16), 25, 27, and 29 declared the pre-eminent sign of regeneration.
18 I have used the text Whitefield edited for his Twenty-three Sermons on Various Subjects . . . (new ed.,; London, 1745, 203–219. Cf. George Whitefield, Works . . . (6 vols.; London, 1771), VI, 161; and Whitefield, Journals, January 9 and March 21, 1739.
19 Whitefield, "Marks of the New Birth," in Twenty-three Sermons, 204, 205–6, 207.
20 The same, 209–210.
21 Charles Wesley’s Oxford sermon, "Awake Thou That Sleepest" (April 4, 1742, in John Wesley, Works, V, 30–34, sec. II, par. 7–11, and III, par. 1–9), summarized the constant linkage the two brothers made between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the experience of the "new creature" who partakes of the divine nature, precisely as Whitefield did in his Sermon on Regeneration, 20–21. (Cf. John Wesley, "The First Fruits of the Spirit" June 25, 1745, Works, V, 88–89, sec. I, par. 1–6), and "The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption", April 25, 1739), the same, 105–107 (sec. II, par. 9–10, and III, par. 1–6); and Wesley, Journal, February 4, and April 8, 1739.
22 Wesley, Journal, March 15, 28, 31, and April 1–2, 1739.
23 The same, April 1–3, 5, 8; and John Wesley, Bristol, April 9, 1739, to James Hutton, summarizing the first full week of the revival at Bristol, in his Letters, I, 631–33. The latter was the first of a weekly series to James Hutton that provide an invaluable supplement to the Journal for April and May.
24 Whitefield, Journals, May 9 and June 3,1739, record the immense size of his open-air congregations in London, and his visits to Bedford, Hertford, Northampton, and other places; but see especially the "Fourth Journal" for June 4–August 3, 1739, particularly the entries for June 18, July 10–14, and July 21.
25 Wesley, Journal, April 26, 29, 1739; John Wesley, Bristol, April 26, 1739, to James Hutton, in Wesley, Letters, I, 635–37 George Whitefield, London, June 25, 1739, and Gloucester, July 2, 1739, to John Wesley, in Whitefield, Letters, . . . 1734–1742, 497, 499 (also in Wesley, Letters, I, 66, 142, 667); and, for Whitefield’s continuing admiration for John Wesley’s work in Bristol and that of Charles in London, Whitefield, Journals, April 30 and July 7 and 21,1739. Wesley never re-issued the sermon, and did not include it in
26 The quotation is from Whitefield, Journals, May 28, 1739. Cf. George Whitefield, Bristol, July 9, 1739, to the Bishop of Gloucester, in the same, entry for July 9, 1739.
27 Whitefield, Journals, March 24, 25, and 28, and May 9, 13, 1739. The same, July 11, 1738, indicates the likelihood that the orphanage that Salzburger pietists had established in Georgia inspired his plan to build one at Savannah.
28 Whitefield, Journals, April 21, 22 (containing his letter, dated Oxon, April 22, 1739 to Charles Kinchin), and 25; and Wesley, Journal, June 6, 1738, recording the first of his many sensible responses to this Moravian notion.
29 George Whitefield, Blendon, June 12, 1739, to an unnamed society, in Letters, I, 50; Wesley, Journal, January 28 and June 22, 1739. Cf. John Wesley, Bristol, June 7, 1739, to James Hutton, Letters, I, 658; and Hillel Schwartz, The French Prophets: The History of a Millenarian Group in Eighteenth-Century England (Berkeley, 1980), 311–318.
30 Wesley, Journal, July 6, 12, 1739.
31 Whitefield, Twenty-three Sermons, 299; the quotations here and later in the paragraph all agree with the fifth edition, published in Boston, 1741. Cf. Whitefield, Journals, May 28 and July 12, 1739; and Lovelace, Mather, 50–52, 91–97, 185–87.
32 Whitefield, Twenty-three Sermons, 309–11.
33 George Whitefield, The Power of Christ’s Resurrection. A Sermon Preached at Werburgh’s in the City of Bristol (London, 1739), 10 and, for strong language about the inward sanctification of the "true Christian," 11–13.
34 Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind, from the Great Awakening to the Revolution, 34–39, links Whitefield’s doctrine of the new birth more closely to Calvinism, I think, than the evidence he cites justifies.
35 The Moravian challenge was a long-standing and persistent one; see Wesley, Journal, June 6, 1738, November 1, 4, 7-10, and December 13, 19, 31, 1739, and April 23, 25, 30 and June 22–24, 1740; and John Wesley, Oxford, November 17, 1738 to Benjamin Ingham and James Hutton, in Wesley, Letters, I, 580. Much of Wesley’s elaborate account of his own experience after Aldersgate as a "babe in Christ" who was "weak in the faith," as well as his lengthy report of what he heard at Herrnhut in August, 1738, was composed after the crisis in the Fetter Lane Society in London had reached its height, and may have been shaped by his need to counter Moravian arguments.
36 Wesley, Journal, July 21-23 and October 9 and 19, 1739; cf. his references to explaining the nature of Christian holiness (apparently to Society meetings), the same, September 13, and October, 1, 3, 7, 10, and 15, 1739. Cf. the same, August 1, and 12, 1738, for Wesley’s account of Moravian Christian David’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount at Herrnhut, written up for publication of that section of the Journal late in 1739.
37 John Wesley, "Sermon on the Mount-Discourse III" (July 26, 1739; published, 1748), Works, V, 278–79, 282–85, 293.
38 John Wesley, "Diary," printed parallel to his Journal, ed. Nehemiah Curnock (8 vols.; London, 1909-16), entry for November 7–8, 1739, records his reading and writing on William Law’s Christian Perfection, the first portion of which he published the following summer. Wesley, Journal, November 17, quoted here, is echoed in the entry for August 10, 1740, where his use of that sermon’s text (as expounded in its opening paragraphs) to urge believers to "press forward for the prize of their high calling, even a clean heart. . . ." Compare, also, John Wesley, comp., of William Law, The Nature and Design of Christianity (London, 1740), discussed in Frank Baker’s ms. bibliography under item 41, pp. 265–68.
39 Wesley, Journal, entries for January 9 and 15, March 5 and 28, April 14, May 5, June 1 and 24, and August 1, 1740.
40 My article, "The Holy Spirit in the Hymns of the Wesleys," The Wesleyan Theological Journal, 17 (Summer, 1981): 28, pays special attention to this earliest published description of the experience of entire sanctification: John Wesley’s preface to the second volume of Charles and John Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems (London, 1740), which appears in his Works, XIV, 322–27.
41 John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection . . . (London, 1766), in Works, XI, 378-81. Wesley misdated this hymnbook as 1742 in the Plain Account and accordingly gave priority there to his essay on The Character of a Methodist and his sermon, Christian Perfection, though both were published after the hymnbook; see the discussion in my article, "The Holy Spirit in the Hymns of the Wesleys," loc. cit., 28–29.
42 George Whitefield, London, August 3, 1739, to an unnamed Scottish clergyman, in Letters, I, 58.
43 I have used the text of the original edition (London, 1739), where these quotations appear on pp. 3, 10-11. These Scripture citations appear to be Philippians 3:12, 15, Genesis 17:1, Deuteronomy 18:13, and Matthew 5:48. Cf. Whitefield, Journals, April 29, 1739, and Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (2 vols.; London, 1970, 1980), I, 197, 224, 316, and 404–9. Dallimore was so absorbed with the early signs of Whitefield’s developing Calvinism that he did not comment at all on these deep and long-standing agreements with the Wesleys.
44 Whitefield, Short Account, 71 (where these words from the 1740 edition appear alongside a revision and extension of them in his later editions) and, generally, 47, 51–2, 54–5, 59, 60, 84, 90. George Whitefield, Philadelphia ["wrote at sea"], November 8, 1739, to John Wesley, in Wesley, Letters, I, 698–699, requested Wesley to publish his Short Account, and reported lovingly that his close reading of Puritan authors had confirmed his Calvinist convictions.
45 Whitefield, Journals, August 25 and September 8, 1739. Cf. entries for August 31 and September 22, 1739.
46 The same, September 29 and 30, 1739. Cf. November 4, 1739, for a parallel observation on Quaker preaching.
47 The same. October 13, 1739. Dallimore, Whitefield, I, 401–409, argued strenuously that the evangelist’s journal and correspondence show that he became a full-blown Calvinist during this voyage as a result of reading Calvinist theological tracts in the light of his own severe self-examination. But the statements that Dallimore quoted, 406–408, do not seem to me different from Whitefield’s language of the previous years, and no more "Calvinist" in their insistence that good works follow and depend upon regeneration than Wesley had been since Aldersgate.
48 Whitefield, Journals, November 27 (for the quotation), October 30, and November 8, 10, 13–18, 20, 22, and 29-30, 1739; Weinlick, "Moravianism in the American Colonies," in Stoeffler, ed., Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity, 134-139; Martin
H. Schrag, "The Impact of Pietism Upon the Mennonites in Early American Christianity," the same, 74–87; and evidence of a long debate between Quakers and Brethren over the nature of the baptism of the Spirit in anon., A Humble Gleam of the Despised Little Light of Truth . . . (Philadelphia, 1747), reprinted in Donald F. Durnbaugh, ed., The Brethren in Colonial America (Elgin, Illinois, 1967), 434, 439–40, 442, 445–46.
49 Whitefield, Journals, November 25, 1739 and October 12, 1740; Whitefield, "The Lord Our Righteousness," in John Gillies, comp., Memoirs of George Whitefield . . . (Middletown, Conn., 1838), 298–308.
50 For direct parallels with Whitefield’s points cited below, see John Wesley, The Lord Our Righteousness (London, 1766) [which I have concluded he preached as early as October 22, 1758], in Works, V, 239–42, 244.
51 Whitefield, "The Lord Our Righteousness," in Gillies, comp., Whitefield, 301, 308. Cf. the same, 302, on the opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount, with John Wesley, "Sermon on the Mount-Discourse I" and "Discourse II" (July 21, 1739), in Works, V. 256, 267–69. See also Whitefield, Journals, January 9, 1740, quoting a Wesley poem of prayer for the coming of the "Spirit of refining fire."
52 Whitefield, Journals, show the sharp contrast between opposition from colonial Anglican pastors and support from dissenting ones in Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, Providence and Boston; see entries for November 8–10, 14–17, 20 and 22, 1739, and April 23 and 29, May 1 and 11, July 13, August 25, and September 19, 1740.
53 Whitefield, Journals, November 14, 1739 and September 25 and November 5, 1740. Dallimore, Whitefield, I, 405, seems to me correct in minimizing the influence of Jonathan Edwards and other New Englanders on Whitefield’s developing Calvinism, for Whitefield did not meet any of them until September, 1740. Moreover, his Journals, October 17–19, recording his visit to Northampton, indicate no significant doctrinal discussion or reflection. But Dallimore underestimated the influence of the Calvinist clergy in the middle and southern colonies upon him.
54 George Whitefield, Savannah, March 26, 1740, to John Wesley, in Whitefield, Letters, I, 155–57 (also in Wesley, Letters, II, 11), and Whitefield, Cape-Lopen, May 24, 1740, to John Wesley, the same, 181–82. Cf. Whitefield, Savannah, June 25, 1740, and Charles-Town, South Carolina], August 25, 1740, to John Wesley, in the same, 189–90,204–5; and John Wesley, London, August 9, 1740, to George Whitefield, in Wesley, Letters, II, 31—all in a friendly spirit, and urging avoidance of public controversy over the issues of predestination and final perseverance.
55 Whitefield, Journals, September 20, 1740.
56 George Whitefield, Boston, September 23, 1740, to "Mr. N., at New York," in Whitefield, Letters, I, 208; and George Whitefield, Boston, September 23, 1740, to "Mr. A.," the same, 209.
57 George Whitefield, Boston, September 25, 1740, to "The Rev. Mr. J. W.," the same, 210–12, quoted here from the more accurate text in Wesley, Letters, II, 31–3.
58 The same, 211–12. Whitefield’s radical doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of sanctifying grace in regeneration, published in 1737 in his Sermon on Regeneration, 5–7, 20–21, and in 1739 in The Power of Christ’s Resurrection, 10–12, had commended him to the Boston clergy. Cf. Gillies, comp., Memoirs of George Whitefield, 48, for William
Seward’s report that at a German settlement near Philadelphia in April 24, 1740, Whitefield pressed poor sinners to "claim all their privileges" in Christ, "not only righteousness and peace, but joy in the Holy Ghost." Afterward, Seward wrote, "our dear friend, Peter Bohler, preached in Dutch, to those who could not understand Mr. Whitefield in English."
59 George Whitefield, Boston, September 26, 1740, to "Mr. I.," in Letters, I, 213–14.
60 George Whitefield, Philadelphia, November 9, 1740, to John Wesley, the same, 219 (also in Wesley, Letters, II, 43).
61 George Whitefield, A Letter to the Reverend Mr. John Wesley: In Answer to His Sermon, Entitled, Free Grace (London, 1741), 11–12, 17, 19 (also in Dallimore, Whitefield, II, 551–69).
62 The classic case is the sermon Christian Perfection, 2–6.
63 Whitefield, Letter to . . . John Wesley, 19, 20.
64 Wesley, Journal, entry for Sunday, February 1, 1741, shows that someone had distributed at the door of the chapel at the Old Foundery printed copies of an earlier Whitefield letter, which Frank Baker’s yet unpublished research establishes was the one written to Wesley from Boston on September 25, 1740. Wesley, standing in his pulpit, declared his belief that Whitefield had not authorized its publication, and invited the congregation to join him in tearing up their copies of it. Wesley’s subsequent dismay, following his meetings with Whitefield and the publication of Whitefield’s open letter, appears in the same, March 28, and April 4; the evangelist, Wesley wrote, "had said enough of what was wholly foreign to the question to make an open (and probably irreparable) breach between him and me." Cf. George Whitefield, [on board the Minerva, February 1, 1741 to John and Charles Wesley, in Whitefield, Letters . . . 1734–1742, 507.
65 See the discussion and citations above at notes 37–41. Cf. John Wesley, Scripture Way of Salvation (London, 1765; composed, I believe, as early as May 22, 1758), Works, VI, 45–46,50; and John Wesley, "On Perfection" (composed, I believe, March 29, 1761 and preached repeatedly thereafter), The Arminian Magazine, 8 (March–April, 1785: in Works, VI, 412–16, 418–19; John Wesley, "Minutes" of the Fourth Annual Conference, for June 17, 1747, in Albert Outler, John W. (New York, 1964), 167–172; John Wesley A Plain Account of Genuine Christian (Dublin, 1753), in R. Outler, Wesley, 181–191; and John Wesley, "Thoughts on Christian Perfection," from Sermons on Several Subjects (London, 1760), in Outler, Wesley, 283–298.
66 The two terms are an organizing principle in Bernard Semmel, The Methodist Revolution (New York, 1973). Cf. [John and Charles Wesley], Hymns on God’s
Everlasting Love, To Which is Added, The Cry of a Reprobate and The Horrible Decree (Bristol, 1741), reprinted in their Poetical Works, coll. and arr. G. Osborn (13 vols.; London, 1869), III, 1–138; Osborn’s "Preface," xiii–xx, stressing the theological content and arguing the conciliatory character of these hymns. Whitefield, of course, shared completely Wesley’s view of the errors of Moravian "stillness," and returned to England as intent on drawing his admirers away from it as on resisting Wesley’s doctrine of heart purity; see his summary of both issues in George Whitefield, on board the Minerva, February 20, 1741, "to T. K., at London," in Letters, I, 251–53.
67 GEORGE WHITEFIELD, BRISTOL, APRIL 28, 1741, TO MR. H. H.," Letters, I, 259–60. Harris remained for a long time, as Whitefield’s letter put it, "tinctured with the doctrine of sinless perfection." For Harris’s efforts to avoid a break between the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and Wesley and his resistance to any opening for sinning religion, see Wesley, Journal October 9, 10, and 17, 1741; and John Wesley, London, August 6, 1742, to Howell Harris, in Letters, II, 85.
68 Cf. George Whitefield, Edinburgh, December 24, 1742, "to Miss S ," Letters, II, 5–6, with quotation above, fn. 20; and see George Whitefield, An Answer to the First and Second Part of an Anonymous Pamphlet Entitled "Observations Upon the. . . Methodists" in Two Letters to the . . . Bishop of London (London, 1744), 9 and, on the new birth, 10, 12. Ralph Erskine, A Fair and Impartial Account of the Debate in the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, October 6th, 1748, Against Employing Mr. Whitefield quoted in Gillies, Comp., Memoirs of George Whitefield, 120, shows the evangelist’s defenders arguing that despite his earlier extreme statements about the spiritual "assurance" of salvation,
Whitefield for the past two years had insisted "that a holy life is the best evidence of a gracious state."
69 See Whitefield’s letters to Wesley as follows: Aberdeen [Scotland], October 10, 1741, Edinburgh, October 11, 1742, in Letters, I, 331, 448–49 (also in Wesley, Letters, II, 66, 87); and London, December 21, 1742, in Wesley, Letters, II, 97-98. Cf. Wesley, Journal, August 24, 1742; and his identification with John Calvin’s view of justification in John Wesley, Londonderry, May 14, 1765, to John Newton, in Outler, John Wesley, 78. Charles Wesley, [London], March 16–17, and Bristol, September 28, 1741, to John Wesley, in Wesley, Letters, II, 54–65, 66, reveal the younger brother’s sharper judgment of Whitefield. But Charles Wesley, Sheffield, October 8, 1749, to Ebenezer Blackwell, records the great and public reconciliation of the three men at Newcastle and Leeds in September, 1749.
70 John Wesley, A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, Part I (London, 1745), ed. Gerald R. Cragg, in Baker, ed., Works of John Wesley, XI, 173 (also in Wesley, Works, VIII, 108).
71 George Whitefield, London, September 1, 1748, to John Wesley, in Wesley, Letters, II, 327–28.
72 George Whitefield, London, March 5, 1758, to "Professor F" Letters, III, 230. Cf. Gillies, comp., Whitefield, 132–33.
73 John Wesley, A Letter to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop Warburton of Gloucester; Occasioned by His Tract, "On the Office and Operations of the Holy Spirit" (London, 1763), ed. Gerald R. Cragg, in Baker, ed., Works of John Wesley, XI, 505–508 (also in Wesley, Works, IX, 150–153, 165–71); George Whitefield, Observations on Some Fatal Mistakes . . . In Dr. William Warburton’s "The Doctrines of Grace; or, The Office and Operations of the Holy Spirit". . . (London and Edinburgh, 1764), 16 (heaping scorn on Warburton’s attack upon Wesley), and passim.
74 Whitefield, Observations, 10.
75 Whitefield, "Marks of the New Birth," in Twenty-three Sermons, 205; Wesley, Christian Perfection, in Works, VI, 11.
76 Whitefield, Observations, 16.
77 My cursory reading of The Christian’s Magazine, published by and for Whitefield’s followers in London, yielded several examples of similar languages: anon., "On Purity of Heart," 5 (September, October, November, 1764): 385, 387, 433–35, 483, consisting of the opening section of a long series summarizing "Systematical Divinity"; and J. K., "Thoughts on Christian Perfection" [signed January 8, 1764], 5 ([April?], 1765): 600–4.
78 George Whitefield, London, December 30, 1766, to "W. P. Esq.," Letters, III, 342–3. Cf. Whitefield, London, December 14, 1768, to the same, in Letters, III, 379, affirming his "moderate Calvinism."
79 I have summarized the evidence in Timothy L. Smith, "How John Fletcher Became the Theologian of Wesleyan Perfectionism," The Wesleyan Theological Journal. 15 (Spring, 1980): 70–1. Cf. Whitefield’s comments on his visit to Trevecca August 26, 1768, in Letters, III, 373–4.
80 Wesley, Journal, November 10 and 18, 1772.
81 John Wesley, On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield . . . November 18, 1770 (London, 1770), Works, VI, 178–9.